Stacking the Deck
Nature versus nurture, free will versus environment, personal responsibility versus predestination — these are all arguments that are often on our minds but are rarely solved. Perhaps the reason they are never given a satisfactory conclusion is because the truth lies somewhere in the middle. As humans, we don’t always like tension, and we want a solid answer that, in this case, might not be there.
Everyone has a background that is going to determine how they see the world, but humans are also free moral agents that can choose how to respond to what they see. To complicate matters, we can learn that we have biases, and we can learn to take that into account when making important decisions. Are we any closer to finding an answer?
All of this talk is purely academic until we are trying to raise our children. When we are actively trying to create an environment that fosters faith, we become keenly aware of our mistakes as well as our children’s resistance to our nurturing hand.
Ezekiel explains that a righteous and just man, “may have a violent son who sheds blood and who does any of these [wicked] things to a brother (though he himself did not do any of these things).” (Ezekiel 18:10-11) In this case, “his blood will be on his own head” and “the son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity.” (Ezekiel 18:13, 20) God will deal with each individual soul based on how they behaved, and everyone will have the same benefit of justice.
This can be a comfort for those who worked hard to teach their children right, and have seen them walk away in rebellion. However, it should not be an excuse for us to be lax in our duties as parents to do everything within our power to provide them with the tools to do what is just and right in the sight of God.
We are reminded that we are to “[t]rain up a child in the way he should go” so that “[e]ven when he is old he will not depart from it,” but we remember that he might. (Proverbs 22:6) The exception does not negate the rule, because even if the child rejects the teachings, the lessons were always there for them to learn. This same idea is present in Deuteronomy 6:7. In talking about God’s laws, Moses reminds the people, “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” We have recorded for us what happened in Israel when “there arose another generation after them who did not know YHWH, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10) The rest of the book details the impact of free will on people who have no moral background, and the picture is not a pretty one.
As parents, we must respect our children’s ability to make their own choices, but we must always strive to provide an environment that values making righteous choices.